A phenomenally capable, tech-laden adventure bike – but it's mightily expensive
Nov 21 2017
Incredibly capable on and off-road
Very expensive build
dropper post not entirely necessary and adds weight
You've got the cash and want one of the most technologically advanced gravel bikes to date
A redesigned frame with space for 42mm tyres, disc brakes, 1x11 Shimano Di2 gearing, Future Shock suspension and a dropper seatpost signal a lot of changes for Specialized's Diverge, but they add up to create one of the best adventure bikes I've ridden. It's a sophisticated ride with buckets of capability for going fast and tackling big journeys over varied and challenging terrain.
The original Diverge was launched back in 2014 at a time when the hype for the gravel and adventure category was still in its infancy. Specialized was one of the first mainstream brands to take aim at this growing trend and really nailed it.
Specialized looked at the evolution of gravel and adventure bikes and decided to completely chuck out the old and start from scratch with a radical new bike. Not so much evolution as revolution, Specialized has packed a lot of new technology into the Diverge. The key change is a move from the elastomer Zertz inserts to the Future Shock borrowed from its Roubaix endurance bike, along with the dropped rear stays, wider tyre clearance and, on this range-topping S-Works model, a dropper post.
All these changes have combined to create a highly capable bike that is adept on loose surfaces and technical trails. The handling leans towards surefooted stability, a bonus when travelling along gravel tracks at speed, yet with enough agility to ensure it's still an engaging ride. The combination of the big tyres and Future Shock let you attack any rough paths, gravel tracks and technical descents with relish. It's a very accomplished bike and more than most manages to be master of all terrain.
The biggest change from the previous Diverge is the Future Shock. It's a spring housed inside a cartridge sandwiched between the stem and frame. The idea is to isolate the handlebar from all the bumps and vibrations caused when riding over rough terrain and washboard fire roads, offering ride-smoothing enhancements on the Diverge.
There is a firm progressive spring use on the Diverge, ensuring that it handles big impacts well; it doesn't bottom out harshly, it doesn't dive under braking, and it does all this without upsetting the balance and geometry of the bike. Don't imagine the handlebar will bounce around uncontrollably because it doesn't. It's very well controlled and you forget it's even there after a while.
Is having 20mm of undamped suspension underneath the handlebar just a gimmick or a genuine advantage? I lean towards the latter. Even running 38mm tyres at 30-40psi (depending on terrain), the Future Shock still noticeably smooths harsher impacts and delivers a smoother ride over washboard surfaces. I noticed less wrist and arm fatigue on longer rides over rough terrain.
It's a smart way of adding comfort to an adventure bike without messing up the geometry or looks like the Fox AX or Lauf Grit CX suspension forks do, but it's a nice thing to have rather than a necessity. Jumping on a rigid adventure bike immediately afterwards you really do miss the Future Shock, then within a few miles you adjust to the firmness of a rigid front end once more.
Specialized has also refined the Diverge's geometry, and it's this that ensures the new model is so highly capable. Specialized calls it Open Road Geometry, and what it amounts to is a lower bottom bracket, slacker head tube angle and shorter wheelbase than the old bike. The stack is higher and the reach is now shorter. (Stack and reach are the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube.)
The lower bottom bracket ensures you sit lower on the bike in relation to the handlebar and this contributes to its great road bike manners because it feels akin to an endurance bike. Cyclo-cross-inspired adventure bikes can leave you feeling a bit high and precarious and don't inspire the same relaxed manners as a road-biased setup.
Shortening the wheelbase produces a more lively feel through corners on the road and helps to quicken up responses off-road. The Diverge snakes and darts through tree-lined singletrack and carves around tight turns with ease. The shorter reach and higher stack places the handlebar in a good position for providing control when manhandling the Diverge through the bends. The higher front end won't be to everyone's taste, and it's exaggerated by the Hover handlebar (more on that below), but it does make the drops much more accessible which serves to increase control in the technical sections.The low overall weight, 8.5kg for this 56cm model, certainly helps with the rapid pace the bike is capable of.
Tyre clearance is another big upgrade on the new Diverge. There's now space for up to 42mm rubber, with the 38mm Specialized Trigger Pro tyres sitting comfortably in the frame and fork with plenty of daylight around them.
You could fit even wider tyres if you swapped the wheels for 650B units. You'd then have the choice of knobbly tyres to make the Diverge even more capable on the dirt, or really fat slicks like WTB Horizons for a configuration some are calling Road Plus. Why would you do that? Because the huge bag of the Horizon means you can run lower pressures for buckets of grip and cushioning; it's the hot set-up if you like to go downhill fast.
The Trigger Pros provide a nice blend of road speed and off-road grip. They favour drier trail conditions than mud and gloop, but it's surprising what you can persuade them to crawl up with a bit of careful weight distribution and gentle application of power. There's a growing market for adventure tyres so plenty of choices if you need to tune the Diverge to suit your local trails.
The tyres are fitted to full-carbon fibre Roval CLX 32 wheels. This is Specialized's shallowest and lightest (1,350g claimed) carbon wheelset, normally reserved for lightweight climbing-orientated road bikes, but they are adequately tough for off-road riding while also contributing to the low overall weight. The 20mm internal width works well with wide tyres, Centerlock hubs secure the disc rotors in place and they are also thru-axle compatible.
The wheels are rather extravagant for an adventure bike perhaps, but they're up to the task of taking a hammering on rough ground, swaggering through some very hardcore trails and heavy impacts leaving no marks. The lack of mass noticeably contributes to how effortlessly the Diverge behaves on and off the road.
Saddle drop away
Another big departure from the previous Diverge on this S-Works bike is the height-adjustable Command Post XCP seatpost. Here, the post provides up to 35mm of drop, you set it anywhere between full extension and fully slammed simply by pressing the small lever mounted to the inside of the handlebar drops.
On my first few rides I didn't use it. Why? Simply, I forgot about it. Doh! I'm just not in the habit of using it on my adventure rides, though I'm well used to dropper posts on my mountain bike and use it pretty much any time the trail points down.
Once I remembered it was there, I started using it more frequently, it simply provides a little more clearance and is very useful when you're careering down very steep banks as you can get off the back of the bike more freely. How useful the dropper post would be to you largely depends on whether you plan to chuck the Diverge down very steep tracks on a regular basis. I can't say I ever needed to use it in an event like the Dirty Reiver, but it would have been useful for something like Grinduro.
Personally, I'd prefer to have the company's bump-absorbing CG-R seatpost to provide a smoother seated ride to match the smoothness from the front end. That or a short travel suspension seatpost. If you want to ride very challenging trails there's no denying the dropper post provides an advantage, but for the 90 per cent of the time I don't use it, a flexible seatpost would be advantageous. The dropper post is only offered on this range-topping S-Works model, but Specialized sells it aftermarket if you wanted to upgrade.
What's that thing down by the bottom bracket? No, it's not a motor before you ask. It's the Swat Box. Yes, it's a daft name, but it's a rather neat idea so hear me out. Instead of you having to stuff your pockets or a saddle bag with tools and spare tubes, Specialized has developed a small compartment that uses the empty space in the elbow of the down tube and seat tube to house all your ride essentials.
Inside it you can cram a spare tube, CO2 canister and head, tyre levers, inner tube valve extender, cash and a multi-tool. It's a tight fit – getting the inner tube to fit inside took a couple of attempts at carefully rolling it around the removable core – but once installed, it is quiet and rattle-free. The contents are suitably protected from the elements, and when you need a tool or spare tube, it's easily accessible.
Yes, the looks are divisive and you'll be forever fending off comments about having a motor on your bike, but functionally it's a great idea. And better than a saddlepack precariously Velcro'd to the saddle or worrying about the contents of your pockets being ejected when you hit a bumpy descent. And if you don't like it, you can just remove it; it simply bolts into the frame.
This S-Works model comes with a very nice build, as you'd hope for on an £8,500 bike. It's a 1x11 drivetrain, and in this instance combines Shimano R785 Di2 road levers with an XTR Di2 Shadow+ mountain bike rear mech (with clutch) and XTR 11-40t cassette. Up front is an Easton EC90 SL crankset spinning on a CeramicSpeed 386 EVO bottom bracket.
I've ridden a few adventure bikes with a similar mix of components, though the combination of a mountain bike rear mech and road shifters is still unusual. This hybrid system is the only way to get a Shimano 1x11 drivetrain as the company doesn't currently offer a dedicated road-focused 1x groupset. Will it ever?
It works though, and it works really nicely. The chain shifts smoothly across the cassette, and the big gaps at the meaty end of the cassette are no problem for the electronic rear mech. Lever feel is lovely, and you can tune the shift buttons to make use of the redundant ones on the left-hand lever – so you can shift using the left or right lever, or use one for up-shifts, one for down-shifts.
The carbon fibre Hover handlebar provides a little extra front-end rise with its unique shape. It's a comfortable handlebar, whether you're riding on the tops or using the compact-reach drops. The S-Wrap Sticky gel bar tape is worth a mention too: it's nicely padded and very grippy when riding in the wet or dry.
One really neat detail is the new Di2 junction box that is hidden in the end of the handlebar. It's far neater than the old box strapped to the stem; it looks more elegant and is easier to use if you need to adjust the gears on the move.
This S-Works model obviously gets the full carbon fibre treatment, with FACT 11r carbon fibre and a claimed sub-900g frame weight. It's a good looking bike, well proportioned and purposeful, with some nice curves, especially the line on the top tube that draws your eye along its length. It's a shame to see the redundant front mech mount on a bike costing £8,500 though.
All cables and brake hoses are routed inside the frame. As before, the new Diverge is a disc brake only platform, and it's now using the latest flat mount and 12mm thru-axles at both ends, so modern and easy compatibility.
All things considered, the new Diverge is a far more capable off-road bike than the old model while being more comfortable on the road too. There's a lot of tech packed into this S-Works model but it all comes together to form a very cohesive package. I'd say it's the most forward-thinking and progressive adventure bike currently available and shifts the category a step further away from the cyclo-cross roots of early generation adventure bikes.
The adventure bike category is awash with choice and the bikes are evolving in a really exciting way. If you're into riding mixed terrain, the evolution of these bikes makes them even more appealing than a few years ago.
There's tough competition though, with the Open Up, 3T Exploro, Mason Bokeh, Kinesis Tripster ATR to name but a few all vying for the title of the best adventure bike. The Diverge is the most feature-rich of the current crop and it's hugely fun and highly capable.
What this S-Works model presents is a money-no-object showcase of the best tech and equipment. Fortunately, the underlying technology is available on the more affordable Diverge bikes. If your budget doesn't extend to this S-Works model, the Diverge Sport costs £2,000 with a carbon frame and Future Shock, while the aluminium Diverge Comp E5(also features the Future Shock in a £1,500 package.
David has been a tech editor on road.cc since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.